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Valenzuela Didn't Take a Vacation

'Baseball Bennie' and 'Dirtbike'

By E.j. Dionne

When some loud braggart

Tries to put me down

And sez his school is great

I tell him right away:

Now what's the matter, buddy,

Ain't you heard of my school?

It's number one in the state!

So be true to your school

Just like you would to your girl or guy... --The Beach Boys

Terry Valenzuela didn't fence when he was at Camelback High in Phoenix. He came to fencing here by accident, "I noticed a sign in the IAB which read: 'Freshman Fencing. No Experience Necessary.' Feeling uniquely qualified on that basis, I went to the first practice," he recalls.

"We all started out at foil, and after a week, coach Marion, a stately Eastern European gentleman whose accent I found unintelligible for weeks, urged me to take a little vacation from fencing, and then forget the game altogether."

But Terry didn't quit, and in a kind of Horatio Alger sports story (or is it Chip Hilton?), he went on to become one of the lynchpins of the fencing team's new success. He was also elected next year's captain on Monday, by a unanimous vote of his teammates.

In the ECAC's last weekend, by far the toughest intercollegiate match in the century, Terry won nine of twelve bouts, and narrowly missed qualifying for the finals.

In discussing the ECAC's, Terry's eyes glossed over and his voice quivered. "I couldda had class. I couldda been somebody, a contendah, steadda bein' a bum, which is what I am," he said.

But he'll get another chance next weekend in the NCAA's in Chicago, "It's my style to set traps," he said, quickly recovering. "Most people don't think when they're on the strip. They attempt to overpower their opponent." Valenzuela prefers to set up situations in which his adversary will do something entirely predictable. That's how he got his nickname: Wile E. Coyote.

Back at Phoenix, Terry was a starter for the Camelback Spartans' baseball team. He wasn't a big baseball fan, but his older brother Bob was all-State three years in a row. "Baseball was a kind of family obligation. As far back as I can remember, we were always at ball games." His younger brother Dan is now holding down Terry's old spot at third base.

"We tied our opening five ballgames, and the process was always the same: we'd jump to a six-run lead, and allow the other team to catch up in the final inning," he reminieded.

This so enraged the coach that in one post-game polemic, he informed the boys, "Half this game is 90 per cent mental." Valenzuela pointed out to his mentor that that amounted to only 45 per cent. "Maybe if we could hit and field, we'd win once and a while."

Phoenix sports aficionados report that on the bus back home, the coach told Terry, "Valenzuela, you're too intelligent to play ball." These same fans report that it was the coach's advice that subtly influenced Terry to turn to fencing.

One of Terry's best friends on the squad was Ben "Baseball Benny" Hileman. "Baseball Benny and I were both standouts on the team. He led the team in strikeouts, and I led the team in errors," Terry said.

"After successful games, in which we both maintained our torrid pace in our respective categories, we'd adjourn to Manuel's Mexican food place for a combination plate and talk baseball, fast cars and girls."

It was at Manuel's in later years that Baseball Benny met the girl of his dreams, "Dirt-Bike Cheryl."

"She was called 'Dirt-Bike' because she had a penchant for racing motorcycles in the deserts outside Phoenix on Sunday afternoon." Terry recently received word from Baseball that he and Dirt-Bike will put on ragged sweat shirts and go anywhere they want to after they go to the chapel to get married in June.

Terry's only regret in leaving Phoenix was in having to leave behind his Custom Street Machine. "She was beautiful. A maroon falcon sprint jacked up in the back, with meats, and a 427 cu. in. hemi-under-glass mounted in the ashtray."

Terry's liking for fast cars developed over time. He started out with one of those pale green six-cylinder Gimme-a-Six-for-Economy-Anytime Mustangs. He followed that up with a short infatuation with a canary yellow Triumph, and then moved into the big-time at Mel Larson's Beautiful Beeline Dragway, six miles east of Phoenix on Beeline Highway. "Sunday!"

Valenzuela's attachment to the traditions of the fifties does not mute his strong political views, however. "Un gobierno tan malo como este jemas ha existido!" he exclaims fervently.

Terry will stay in Cambridge this summer to fence in the Olympic Trials, and to work on a thesis in Biology. "Biology is so immense. It's kaleidoscopic. No two days are ever the same. It makes you look forward to getting up in the morning."

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